CSU Los Angeles -- November 14, 2003

Cal State L.A.'s Spinal Cord Injury and Exercise Research Project Provides Hope Through Gait Training

Before Andrea Jennings (Pasadena resident) decided to participate in California State University, Los Angeles’ Spinal Cord Injury and Exercise Research (SCIER) project this summer, she was told by her doctors that she would never again walk on her own.

Within one month, however, Jennings was walking with minimal assistance using a novel rehabilitation system—“a really remarkable outcome,” according to Ray de Leon (Glendale resident), the CSULA faculty member who along with kinesiology professors Jesus Dominguez (Santa Clarita resident) and Tamar Semerjian (Los Angeles resident) oversee the SCIER project.

Following a car accident in October 2000, in which she suffered both spinal cord and brain injury, Jennings was unwilling to settle for dependency on a leg brace or power wheelchair. After more than two years of seeing a battery of doctors, Jennings says she was ready to try anything.

In 2003, Jennings heard about the SCIER project at Cal State L.A. through a friend, Eve-Lynn Brown (Pasadena resident), one of several CSULA students working on the project. Jennings didn’t inquire about the project, however, until her 14-year-old daughter enrolled at Cal State L.A. to take courses for college credit. What happened after that astonished both Jennings and CSULA researchers alike.

On July 1, three Cal State L.A. SCIER Fellows—specially trained to conduct this new therapy by experts—began to rehabilitate Jennings using a state-of-the-art gait-training machine by Robomedica, Inc. “This is one of the machines that Christopher Reeves used!” enthuses Jennings.

Robomedica, Inc.’s <www.robomedica.com> body weight support system is among the company’s first products based on research developed at UCLA and UC Irvine. It is designed for a variety of patient populations including those with neural impairments, orthopedic injuries and degenerative diseases.
The Robomedica, Inc. gait-training machine supports Jenning’s body weight with a harness above a treadmill. At the same time, the student “step trainers”—Chung Lim (Monterey Park resident), Suzanne Montague (Burbank resident) and Troy Young (Anaheim resident)—assist Jenning’s legs with sensory cues that simulate walking motion and rhythm, helping her to relearn swing and stance (the two phases of walking). The computerized apparatus continually adjusts the amount of support she receives during stepping, and allows the SCIER team to modify the treadmill speed and body weight support as she progresses in her therapy.

De Leon, the project’s principal investigator, notes, “It was amazing! Her recovery is a testament not only to her hard work and determination, but also to the project’s dedicated Cal State L.A. student fellows who have worked intensely with her this summer.”

Jennings attributes much of her recovery to a strong faith in God, but she also can’t stop praising the Cal State L.A. SCIER Fellows, professors, and the designers of the gait-training equipment. Says Jennings, “I want to get this message of hope out to as many people with spinal cord injury as possible, to let them know there is a place they can go to get help. You don’t have to be a movie star to get this kind of treatment.”

In addition to participating in the SCIER project, Jennings is also enrolled in Kinesiology 155, a course open to anyone who needs assistance in exercising. Students in the class have access to adaptive exercise equipments at the University’s Mobility Training Center. Here, kinesiology student Ivanova Guillen (Los Angeles resident) has been working with Jennings on rehabilitating her left arm by applying sensory and active range motion exercises.

With renewed aspirations, Jennings recently started a non-profit organization to increase public awareness about the needs of people with disabilities and to raise self-esteem for newly injured or diagnosed “differently-abled” individuals.

Aiming to specialize in disability and housing accessibility issues, Jennings is planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science with an option in public administration at Cal State L.A. At the moment, however, her focus is to continue with her therapy and exercises and to get the word out about the benefits of the Cal State L.A. SCIER project and the gait-training machine.

The Program
With Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center as the lead institution, the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center was developed as a part of a five-year, $4.5 million grant project funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)—a component of the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Cal State L.A.’s project, Spinal Cord Injury and Exercise Research (SCIER), which started in November, 2002, focused on improving exercise devices for individuals with SCI and also improving accessibility to exercise for these individuals.

Besides providing a place for individuals who need special therapy and access to adaptive exercise equipment, principal investigator Ray de Leon explains, “The SCIER project provides an opportunity for Cal State L.A. students to do real hands-on research. For this first year, we recruited seven student fellows who are kinesiology undergraduate and graduate students. They spent the first quarter learning to use special exercise devices and the next quarter becoming proficient at conducting the therapies. During late spring through the summer, these student fellows then work directly on project participants with gait-training therapy. We’ve provided the specialized rehab training to about four participants so far, and there are already about a dozen lined up for next quarter.”

The co-principal investigators of CSULA’s project include Tamar Semerjian and Jesus Dominguez, assistant professors of kinesiology. Samuel Landsberger, one of two program directors for the SCIER, is a faculty member in kinesiology and engineering at Cal State L.A. Artin Davidian is the project manager and engineer.

For more information on how to support or participate in the SCIER project, call (323) 343-5328.

CONTACT: Carol Selkin, Media Relations Director, (323) 343-3044

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